ERC Consolidator Grants for five Ghent University researchers

(23-11-2023) This grant will support these excellent scientists and scholars at the career stage where they may still be consolidating their own independent research teams to pursue their most promising scientific ideas.

The European Research Council (ERC) awarded 308 young researchers with a Consolidator Grant this year, including four researchers at Ghent University and one researcher at VIB: Pieter De Frenne for the project CanopyChange, Jutho Haegeman for the project GaMaTeN, Jonathan Maelfait for the project Zignalling, Lynn Vanhaecke for the project MeMoSA and Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke (VIB) for the project DeliChoP. Once again we are frontrunners among Belgian universities.

Pieter De Frenne: CanopyChange

Pieter De FrenneForest disturbances are now accelerating across Europe. Drought induced by climate change is a key driver. These disturbances are opening the canopy and exposing forest biodiversity to novel light regimes and drought – light and drought levels they have never been exposed to before. The aim of the project CanopyChange is to quantify, understand and predict the impacts of novel light regimes and drought on below-canopy plant biodiversity across European forests.

Jutho Haegeman: GaMaTeN

Jutho HaegemanWe are in the midst of the second quantum revolution, where highly entangled quantum matter is being discovered, engineered, controlled and probed in the lab across a wide range of scales and conditions. These developments go hand in hand with simulations of the quantum world on classical computers. The central goal of the GaMaTeN project is the design and application of novel computational techniques for studying quantum systems with gauge symmetry, the universal paradigm that governs high-energy particles as well as low-temperature condensed matter. Our methods and algorithms are based on the framework of tensor networks, a novel language to model quantum states via their entanglement structure in an expressive and modular way. These methods will enable us to probe physical phenomena that are intrinsic to the presence of interacting gauge and matter field and which are beyond the reach of conventional techniques.

Jonathan Maelfait: ZIGNALLING

Jonathan MaelfaitNucleic acids are potent activators of an immune response. Z-nucleic acids are poorly defined and thermodynamically unstable conformers of double-stranded RNA/DNA helices. Recently, others and our group showed that Z-nucleic acids are recognised by the nucleic acid sensor ZBP1, thereby inducing an antiviral immune response. Activation of ZBP1 has also been shown to induce anticancer immunity and it is becoming clear that chronic engagement of ZBP1 by endogenous Z-nucleic acids causes autoinflammatory pathology. On top of that, a remarkably diverse set of cellular insults, ranging from pathogens and chemicals to genetic mutations trigger ZBP1 activation. Despite its relevance in these important (patho)physiological events, knowledge on the fundamental principles that govern Z-nucleic acid-induced ZBP1 signalling is lacking. Our research aims for a detailed mechanistic understanding of ZBP1 function from single molecule to organism will enable us to develop future strategies for therapeutic interference with ZBP1-mediated immune responses, either negatively, to resolve autoinflammation, or positively, to promote antiviral or anticancer immunity.

Lynn Vanhaecke: MeMoSA

Lynn VanhaeckeMeMoSA aims to demonstrate that the whole of small molecules (the metabolome) in an individual’s body can be predicted on the basis of its sources, i.e., dietary intake, microbiome, lifestyle, drug intake, psychological factors, clinical markers, etc., and as such serve as a framework to revert unhealthy to healthy metabotypes through personalized interventions in children. To achieve this challenging goal, Lynn and her team will unify data obtained through source-based conventional 2D metabolomics and lipidomics, with its promising metabolite identification and qualification power, and their novel rapid ambient ionization-based metabotyping method, with its potential to be harnessed into routine clinical practice.

Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke: DeliChoP

VIB - Ine Dehandschutter

Conditions that affect the central nervous system (CNS) – from Alzheimer's disease to brain tumors – are debilitating, and drugs designed to treat them face low success rates. The development of effective drugs for these diseases encounters significant challenges, mainly due to the CNS barriers that obstruct their delivery. Thanks to the ERC Consolidator grant, Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke's lab will now explore ways to breach the CNS barriers. The ERC DeliChoP project will target the choroid plexus, a network of capillaries deep in the brain, as a site for delivering drugs into the brain. Roosmarijn and her team have previously shown that a customized single-domain antibody can transport a peptide into the brain via this route. Now, they will further investigate which drugs can be delivered this way and which conditions might be alleviated by doing so. The results will provide crucial knowledge for the development of new and effective therapies for various CNS diseases.

About the ERC

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. 

Researchers within and outside of Ghent University who wish to apply for an ERC Grant with our university as host institution, can contact the EU Team for advice and support.


EU-team UGent,